Posted by : Shoumik Das Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Oral Tradition of Sanskrit – Scientific Tradition


Indian contribution to science and technology is substantial. Most of
us relate to the ‘creating’ zero and to knowledge of Pythagorean
Theorem before Pythagoras. The areas of excellence extended quite wide
and the knowledge acquired quite deep. Mathematics, astronomy,
medicine and metallurgy are such major areas, at least in the first
two the knowledge was through analytical reasoning.
The Indian exploration has started from the Vedic times. Sulbasutra-s
were the basis for building ritual altar. They were so complex and
required knowledge of geometry, which even by standard of later
Renaissance period, was quite advanced.

Numbers and presentation of numerical data through a number of
numerical systems, calculations with zero, knowledge of infinity, use
of fractions, square- and cube-roots etc are some of the areas in
mathematics. These were for practical applications can be seen in the
permutation-combination, interest - simple and compound – calculations
etc.

The credit for contribution in these areas, for lack of documentation
and other reasons, went to the European mathematicians, who came many
centuries later. Newton-Sterling interpolation, the Taylor series,
Gregory-Leibnitz series, De Moivre’s approximation to ‘pi’ are
definitely Indian contribution.

Astronomy is another area. In the minds of most it is confused with
astrology, with its divine association. The fifth vedanga is called
jyotisha, which should mean both astrology and astronomy. Though
astrology and its predictions have been a subject of controversy, our
astronomical knowledge is well documented though less studied.

Varahamira (of Panch-siddhantika; 587 CE) informs of the mathematical
basis of astrology.

“One is fit to be called an expert astronomer only if he knows the
problem of dealing with the Sun crossing the prime vertical and prove
his method mathematically and graphically. (Panch-siddhantika: 4-36)”

In astrological calculations Rahu and Ketu are grahas. Are these
planets, but they don’t exist, is our question. Interestingly
astronomical calculations consider only the real planets, which are
called ‘tara grahas’. The astronomers in the past, perhaps, were as
derisive as the non-believers today. Lallacharya (Sishyadi vriddhai
Tantra; 749 CE) makes fun of the claim that serpent causes eclipses by
swallowing sun or the moon.

“If Rahu, the artificial demon, is always the cause of eclipse by
swallowing (the Sun or the Moon), then how is it that an eclipse can
be determined by calculations. Moreover, why is that there is not an
eclipse on a day other than the day of new moon or full moon?”
In fact in Indian astronomical books by astronomers like Varahamira nd
Bhaskaracharya, Rahu is used to refer as the shadow of earth.
Two more interesting facts. Lallacharya anticipates gravitational
force of attraction, when he says:

“In the group of great celestial bodies, all planets made of
pancha-bhoota, exist in space, like magnet attracts a piece of iron,
from all sides. (Pancha-siddhantika 13-1)

Now we may give our own definition of pancha-bhoota-s!”

The other is the scientific definition and character of planets by
Nilakantha Somayaji (1444-1544 CE), the famous commentator of
Aryabhattiya, who says:

“Know that all planets are spherical. And also know that it revolves
in eccentric (pratimandalam) orbits which are equal to circular orbit
of planets.”

I would like to conclude this introduction with a fascinating fact.
Saka era and Kali era are two most popular eras used in India. The
latter is also known as Kaliyuga, a term which has a different
understanding in our mythology. The beginning of Kali era is reckoned
as the midnight of 17/18 February of the year 3102 BCE. The date is
significant as at that time all planets were almost in a line
according to Surya-siddhanta and Aryabhatteeya.


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